As we launch the sixth edition of Giant Killers, we'd like to welcome you back to another hunt for shocking NCAA upsets and guide you through the methods to our March Madness.
So if you're wondering what Giant Killers are and how we find them, please check out this explanation of our methodology (which is free), as well as this introductory article from the latest issue of ESPN The Magazine. For a deeper exploration of how and why teams pull off big upsets, you can also check out this older Mag piece, too.
Over the years, we've learned a lot from and had a lot of fun with reader feedback. If you have questions, comments, complaints or ideas, hit up the GK Mailbag and let us know.
As we did in 2010, we have assigned potential Giant Killers a score from 1 to 100 based on how statistically similar teams are to previous Killers. Any score of 50 or higher means a team stands a very strong chance of pulling off an upset, while a score of less than 5 means a team bears basically no resemblance to underdogs who enjoyed success in the past. Similarly, we have assigned vulnerability ratings to this year's Giants on a 100-point scale. In the coming days, we will be rolling out these scores for Killers and Giants. And once the NCAA selection committee seeds the tournament, we'll provide our predictions for head-to-head matchups, too.
We want to note straight away that this year's field of Giant Killers is topped by one of the most lethal underdogs we have ever seen: Belmont has the third-highest GK score of any potential Killer since 2004, when our data sample begins. Beyond the Bruins, there's a sizable group of possible Killers, but several will probably have to make the second round of the tournament to qualify as deep underdogs (seeded five spots lower than the favorite). George Mason, Old Dominion, St. Mary's, UNLV and Utah State all look good according to our model, but are all also likely to earn No. 8 to No. 10 seeds.
For immediate action with Giant Killing implications, try tonight's Big Sky final between Northern Colorado and Montana. The winner will likely earn a No. 16 seed, no great prize. But at least the Bears crash the offensive boards and clamp down on opponents' 2-point shooting, two factors favored by our statistical model. On the other hand, history says that teams with offenses as weak as the Grizzlies' have very little chance of turning into Killers.
And then root for New Mexico against Colorado State on Thursday. The Lobos have the fifth-highest chance to be a Giant Killer among teams with any chance left to make the NCAA tournament. But they're going to need a spectacular run in the Mountain West to make the big dance.
That's just the tip of this Titanic-crushing iceberg though. Stay tuned in the blog for more updates in the days to come.